MEDIA CONTACT: Leah Mohr, South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, (605) 773-3201 or (605) 280-4327

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission today approved a construction permit for the Wild Springs Solar Project to be built in Pennington County. The decision allows Wild Springs to move forward with plans to construct a solar energy facility capable of generating up to 128 megawatts of energy one-half mile south of New Underwood, South Dakota.

Wild Springs, PUC staff and the Burndorf Family Trust, the docket’s only intervenor, previously presented a settlement agreement that was accepted by the commission at their meeting on Nov. 12, 2020. The agreement resolved all issues except for the appropriate decommissioning financial assurance. The commission’s action this week was to rule on the proposed decommissioning condition submitted by Wild Springs and determine if a permit should be granted.

“It’s extremely interesting and very exciting to see this type of renewable energy project being developed in South Dakota,” said PUC Chairman Gary Hanson. “Ten to 20 years ago, solar energy wasn’t considered a viable option for our state because we didn’t have the right climate for it. It’s exciting to see that technology has grown and investors are willing to support a renewable energy that has very few challenges from the standpoint of aesthetics or noise or anything of that nature,” he stated.

The approved permit will include 38 conditions that must be adhered to during the construction and operation of the project. Land restoration, potential impacts to threatened and endangered species, post-construction breeding bird surveys and associated nest monitoring, and the financial assurance for future decommissioning are all among the details the conditions address.

“Decommissioning financial assurance is something we’ve been dealing with for the last three years on various projects. We’ve talked about a lot of different options and an escrow account is the one we’ve adopted up to this point; partly because until now, we’ve never had a bond presented to us in a manner that was irrevocable. In this case, the applicant has figured out a way to give us the assurance that no matter what happens to the owner, the bond will remain in place,” stated Vice Chairman Chris Nelson. “I greatly appreciate the time staff has put in to initially raise the question of whether this was appropriate and then to work through the details with the applicant to ensure that this will work long term,” he continued.

The proposed solar project will span up to 1,499 acres of privately-owned land and plans to include approximately 340,000 solar panels. Other components of the project include inverters, a tracking rack system, fencing, access roads, a substation, an operations and maintenance building, a parking lot, electric collection lines, up to three weather stations and temporary construction areas.

“This is South Dakota’s biggest solar project to date. We at the PUC have had a lot of experience with wind development in the last few years, but in certain regards, solar is different. I appreciate the efforts made by PUC staff and the applicant to help us ensure our landowners will be well protected,” said Commissioner Kristie Fiegen.

Wild Springs expects to complete construction of the $190 million facility by the end of 2022. Upon completion, the project will interconnect to the New Underwood Substation owned by Western Area Power Administration, located adjacent to the project area. The energy produced by the solar facility will be purchased by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

Wild Springs filed its application with the PUC on May 15, 2020. The PUC held a public input hearing telephonically on July 1.

The Wild Springs Solar Project docket can be viewed on the PUC’s website at
www.puc.sd.gov, Commission Actions, Electric Dockets, 2020 Electric Dockets,
EL20-018 – In the Matter of the Application by Wild Springs Solar, LLC for a Permit of a Solar Energy Facility in Pennington County, South Dakota.

Photo Caption: East River Electric Power Cooperative’s Chief Member and Public Relations Officer, Chris Studer, was part of the solar project announcement at a news conference in February.